Working in the cracks in the system

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Let’s say John works for you and you notice that he’s
starting to come in late. You could do what some people in my classes suggest
when I present the case and “document it” or “write him up.” That may be what
you think the manual says, but if you jump right to documentation you very
likely could be perceived as unfair.

For most team members, “getting written up” is serious, emotional, and
negative. Technically you may be in the right, but emotionally, your team
members will perceive you as playing “gotcha.” That’s not a good feeling for
them to have if you want to increase morale and productivity.

Try this instead. Use the situation as an opportunity for conversation. Talk
to John in private. Tell him you’ve noticed that he’s been coming in late and
tell him why that matters to you and to the team. After you say that, wait for
John to speak next.

John may dispute your facts. He may describe an issue that’s causing the
lateness. He may ‘fess up and promise to do better. Whatever happens, you now
have the opportunity for a conversation and a bit of coaching. That conversation
may end in several ways.

You may decide you need to warn John that you will be watching his
performance for at least the next few days and if he continues to come late, you
will need to document the issue. If you must document John’s behavior, you won’t
be playing “gotcha” anymore, but the odds are that you won’t have to document,
because John will take your point and mend his ways.

You may learn that there’s something that’s caused John to be late the last
few days. It may be temporary or permanent. It may be something you can make
allowances or adjustments for, or not.

You may discover that John wasn’t coming late at all. Yes, it happens, and
more frequently than most supervisors want to admit.

Whatever happens, you can use noticing John’s behavior as an opportunity for
conversation and coaching. You can probably find some good you can make of it.

This is an example of what an experienced supervisor on one of my expert
panels called working “in the cracks in the system.” It’s the part of you work
as a boss that’s informal and not written down. It’s also the part where you do
a lot of your best work.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The best bosses I’ve seen do most of their work informally, “in the cracks in
the system.” It’s an art to be mastered.

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